Summer Camp Experiences build Confidence and teach Essential Psychological Skills.
By Dr. Jay Greenfeld
Summer camp is not an option for every child nor are summer day camps. However, if there is a choice in your family to send your children to any variation of summer camps, start planning to execute a plan for them to be involved in this type of experience. I recall writing my Thesis during my undergraduate degree on the value and patterns of trust in close camp friends. At this point, that Thesis was decades ago and many aspects of the camping experience have changed. However, one thing that remains the same is the breadth of psychological skills your children can learn while attending any of the session options throughout the summer. Summer day camps or overnight camps present the opportunity for your children to learn psychological and psychosocial skills they would likely not be taught in school for an extended period of time. Whether you are considering sending your children to the various special interest day camps within the city or outside the city or to the multiple overnight sleep away camps, I would encourage you to see the value in the skills they can come away with.
Your children can have the opportunity to experience nonstop activities with children in and around their age, often time with older teenagers overseeing the operations. You have learning experiences for children at the direction of older children which lends the opportunity for your children to establish mentors and for the older children and teenagers, the opportunity to fulfill leadership roles. The younger children have the experience of learning from someone they can relate to, someone they can connect with, and someone they can emulate as they are learning how to grow up in the current world. The teenage leaders can strengthen their interpersonal skills while mentoring younger children which can often lead to an increase in their self-esteem, self-confidence, and help them overcome many of their fears related to taking on more significant roles. The campers as well as the counselors can have the opportunity to set different goals that are not academically related, enhance their communication skills, and engage in various relaxation efforts as they are not wedged within the confines of the school year structure.
Attending a summer camp type experience will create an opportunity for your child and teenager to set goals that have little to do with their schooling. Throughout the school year, students are often inundated with daily and weekly goals of what they need to complete prior to a fixed deadline. The summer camp experience affords them the opportunity to set goals related to physical accomplishments (e.g., paddling a certain number of miles, climbing a certain height of rocks, swimming a certain number of laps in the lake, carrying a certain amount of luggage, setting up a tent, or starting a fire with wet wood). Your children have the opportunity to learn survival skills and to rely on the more creative side of their brain; empowering your children to expand their way of thinking. Expanding their way of thinking when setting different types of goals also gives their brain a chance to relax so when they return to school in the Fall. These goals do not come easily but they often take time to talk about with those around them.
The communication skills that are brought forth while part of the summer camp experience are threefold. The skills are nonverbal, verbal, and do not rely much on the use of a headset or screen. While at any type of camping experience, your child will be in very close contact with many children of varying ages and abilities and instead of focusing on the teacher or whatever is happening at the front of the classroom, they are focusing on each other and each movement within the activities. The focus placed on the nonverbal skills can lead your children to pay closer attention to eye contact, body positioning when interacting, body posture when talking with others, and any negative reactions from others they may not otherwise notice. When children are placed within the same environment for many days in a row, all focused on the same task or activity, they start to attend to the less obvious aspects of the interaction that they would not have attended to otherwise.
For most of the special interest camps and overnight camps, technology is the lowest priority - because we have what often feels like 9 months of winter, the ideal is to ensure campers will be outside! Therefore, there is less focus on communicating with friends through a headset while gaming and more of an emphasis on face-to-face interactions that you cannot hide behind a screen to engage in. Although it can be very uncomfortable for many children, empowering them to be involved in these types of experiences help them confront their anxieties, worries, and doubts when around others. Above all, social plans are made for them. They do not need to text their friends or have their parents arrange plans, the plans are made for them, every single day and night. Therefore, they learn to connect with people they normally may not have connected with, they learn to work together on tasks and communicate how to best accomplish these tasks, and they learn how to express their discomfort or struggles they may have with others because they will be with them for the week or month rather than avoid overcoming the challenges.
One way to help decrease the pattern some children may have with avoiding their own challenges is engaging in relaxation. We wait all winter long for the day when it will sunny and warm outside. Attending a summer camp or day camp gives your child that exact opportunity and ensuring they are as relaxed as they can be throughout will only enhance their experience. I often recall spending many summers at camp on the lake, in the woods, on the field, or hiking, and although those activities can come with challenge, they also lead to some of the most serene, calming, and relaxing environments. Throughout any type of camping experience, your children can routinely engage in relaxation exercises because it is unlikely they will be plugged into some form of technology. They will have access to engage in mindfulness walks and mindful moments where there is little interference from a screen. The more they can engage in these types of experiences, the less anxious they can become while increasing their comfort level stepping outside their comfort zones. Empowering your children with summer camp experiences can help increase their confidence as they have countless opportunities to implement a variety of essential psychological skills.
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